The Brandon Curry we care about is not the bodybuilder/fitness guru or the Charlotte basketball standout who led Harvard into its third straight NCAA basketball tournament. (Although our Brandon Curry, like the hoops standout, is a Charlotte native.)
The one we’re talking about used to be a lizard – a rapping lizard who littered, in fact – and is now a dead man. That’s Brandon Lashawn Curry, who’ll visit his hometown next week when the national tour of “Ghost” gets to Belk Theater.
So why is he billed as Brandon Lashawn Curry?
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“I hope to join the union (Actors Equity) someday, and there’s already a Brandon Curry,” he says. “I have no idea who he is, but he’s out there somewhere.”
Brandon Lashawn Curry is currently making a name for himself as a man without a name: The Subway Ghost who teaches Sam, the hero of the musical, to reach across the barrier between the dead and the living to rescue his fiancée.
The Subway Ghost sings the powerful second-act “Focus,” but he’s no smiling angel: He’s a troubled guy who tells the audience he has been persecuted for an undefined wrongdoing.
“I decided he was a tagger, someone isolated from the world by choice when he died,” says Curry. “Mental illness has isolated him; he’s very unsettled, withdrawn. He doesn’t want anyone in his space, and anything that’s gonna take away the peace that comes from solitude is not OK.
“That led me to research how the homeless population of New York has a lot of mentally ill people. It’s hard to (depict that) in a musical, where you don’t have much time. But there’s a turning point when he stops fighting back and allows for that second of humanity.”
Curry put a lot of work into a character without a lot of stage time, but that’s what working actors do. He decided to become one back at North Mecklenburg High School (class of 2007), after landing by chance in a touring Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production.
“My mom saw a news clipping and said if it wasn’t something I wanted to do, she wouldn’t make me do it again.” (Parents Tiffini and Anthony Curry still live in Charlotte.) “I fell in love with being there, being part of a play (“Twist and Shout,” about dating violence) that was like a job. I thought it was cool to miss school for two weeks and go ‘on tour’ around CMS.”
He found out about Children’s Theatre’s ensemble for high school actors, where he worked with Mark Sutton and Jill Bloede and “was floored. They helped us prep for auditions, helped with packages for schools, taught things you learn in college. If I hadn’t taken that program, I wouldn’t have gotten into college.” But he did, graduating from Elon in 2011.
The ensemble program taught him to think like an actor, to be on time and work out conflicts in advance. Now he learned life lessons: going on the ocean with a cruise ship, taking temp jobs and scheduling auditions around his shifts.
The pigs came for him in 2013. He landed a five-month part in “Piggy Nation: The Musical,” based on Richard Rosser’s popular comic strip about rude behavior. Curry narrated and played Oliver Oxley but scored his biggest success as Larry Lizardo, a guy with no regard for public spaces.
“That was a unique experience,” he says. “I worked for Nickelodeon, so I got to hang out and witness the culture of children, how they are basically like adults without all the social constrictions we have.”
“Ghost” gave him a contract through September, but he’ll be off for a week in April and three weeks in May to make the rounds of New York auditions.
“I’ve never been through that process without stress, without working around my survival jobs,” he says.
“I learned in college that you’re never not auditioning, you’re never not applying for the next thing. Everything is temporary. You can be Elphaba in ‘Wicked,’ and you’re going to be replaced someday.”